A Housing Authority (HA) review committee report showing interim findings on the lead water scare has been criticised for failing to touch on issues of accountability and penalty.

The report was submitted following an investigation of the lead water contamination scandal in public housing estates by a government task force. The report confirmed the task force’s findings that the source of the excessive lead content in the water of public housing estate buildings was the soldering material used by contractors in the connecting pipes.

The review committee said that before the lead scare, the HA had not been paying attention to drinking water or the content of lead and other metals in the water supply, RTHK reported. The review committee criticised the current monitoring system, saying that the HA did not list lead soldering as a high-risk factor nor require contractors to check and supervise the use of lead soldering in pipes.

Kai Ching estate
Kai Ching Estate, one of the 11 public housing estates affected by lead water contamination. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The committee agreed with the task force’s suggestion that the Water Supplies Department (WSD) should review the relevant regulations and improve quality control mechanisms. The task force also called for government departments and contractors to examine the water supply before allowing residents to move in. Currently, the HA conducts parametric tests on water samples according to the requirements of the WSD, but these tests do not include checking the lead content in the water.

The review committee asked the HA to state specifically in agreements that contractors must abide by the regulations, and that checks on the lead soldering must be conducted and recorded. The HA will also be requiring contractors to ensure that employees receive sufficient relevant training, Commercial Radio reported.

In an interview with RTHK, Democratic Party’s Helena Wong Pik-wan, who first revealed the contamination scare, said she was “totally disappointed” with the report. “I see there is no true picture of the entire lead-in-water saga and there has not been follow up for the issue, no timetable for settling and replacing the pipe…there is [no one] accountable for the whole mistake and no punishment at all.”

helena wong
Helena Wong Pik-wan.

Wong also said that the WSD and the HA did not look at the issue of mismanagement, and they were mixing up the source of water contamination with its causes. She believes that Legislative Council members should be in charge of conducting the investigation rather than the government. She says there are still issues that need addressing, such as the question of who approved the use of the substandard materials, and why there was no checking on site.

Secretary for Transport and Housing, Anthony Cheung Bing-leung admitted that there were inadequacies with the HA’s monitoring mechanism and he said it will learn from its mistakes. He also said that the HA and the WSD will be formulating a plan for testing the water at housing estates built before 2005, which he believed to be at a lower risk of lead contamination, as the pipes were not connected by soldering.

cheung bing-leung
Secretary of Transport and Housing, Anthony Cheung Bing-leung. Photo: Now TV.

A full report will be handed in to the HA by the end of this year, the review committee said.

The lead water contamination issue was first brought to light by the Democratic Party in July, after which 11 public housing estates and various schools across Hong Kong were found with excessive lead content in their water. In October, the HA announced that it will be punishing the four contractors involved in the construction of the housing estates.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.